Category Archives: Advent and Christmas

December 6, Praying with Pope Francis: The Future of the Very Young

barf.4.st.nicholasPope Francis’s Missionary Intention for December is:

That every country take the measures necessary to prioritise the future of the very young, especially those who are suffering.

Today is the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas, an early Greek Christian bishop who is counted as patron of children. Here he is with three little boys he is said to have rescued, his cope decorated with gold coins for the dowries he paid to protect three girls from human trafficking. He is holding an image of Barfrestone church in Kent; the Latin says ‘St Nicholas, patron of this church.’

Nicholas was a popular saint because he did what he could for children. Pope Francis is not thinking merely of governments looking after the children in their own countries, but of our care – we as members of our nations – doing what we can for the children in our own countries and elsewhere in the world. Even a packet of biscuits in the food bank, or a few pounds or euros to an education or health charity can provide for the future – perhaps the immediate future – of a child in danger.

On the feast of the patron of children, let us pray for children everywhere, and for all those who care for them, parents, teachers, health workers.

  • Saint Nicholas, pray for us.
  •  Come Lord Jesus, Emmanuel.

 

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2 December: ‘What comes after the winter snows?’

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Just looking at this photograph, I can feel the cold; the crisp, clear cold of the Alpine winter I enjoyed in my youth. We may well not see a flake this winter down in Kent, but we ca expect some cold, wet, ‘let’s stay indoors’ days.

Time to sit in the warm and be grateful for it, not taking it for granted. The sentence I quoted above invites us to such reflection, for it reads in full:

Autumn can be a powerful time of reflection about life, transition, change, death, and what comes after the winter snows of our Earthly journey’s end.

Well, when I read Fr James Kurzynski’s article back in October I had already slotted posts for every day that could count as officially autumnal, but it seemed just as appropriate to Advent, so I’m sharing it now. Follow the link to Fr James’s back yard. He was stargazing, not looking for the Star of Bethlehem, but still found wonder, light and burning beauty in the skies and in his soul.

A bit cold in the Northern hemisphere for lying out on the grass, but telescope or no telescope, even five minutes stargazing in a city garden brings a reminder of the wonders of ‘our galactic home’.

francis stargazing

Saint Francis did not have a telescope but he did have a family; we read about his renunciation of their privileged way of life tomorrow. That decision enabled him to lie down on Sister Earth anf admire the heavens!

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2 December: Reminder, Carol Service tomorrow

We recently posted a notice for the Amos Trust Carol Service in Canterbury in aid of peace making in  Palestine.

This service will be tomorrow, 3 December, from 19:00 – 21:00, at St Paul’s Church, Canterbury CT1 1NH.

Join us when the Amos Trust Bethlehem Christmas carol service tour stops off at St Paul’s in Canterbury, where we’ll be joined by Sami Awad from Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem plus special guest performers.

Sami is a leading Palestinian peace activist who will be explaining why non-violence is at the heart of the Christmas message and of his family in Gaza. All proceeds will go to our 2019 Christmas appeal for our partners in Gaza and the home and peace-building work of Holy Land Trust.

Please join us.

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1 December: Starry night.

 

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A London night sky.

AS we in the northern hemisphere enter Advent and the darker days of winter, here is a thought-provoking article from ‘Sacred Space’ the Vatican Observatory site.

It shows just how light pollution affects us, and what we miss through our obsessive use of street lighting. This is not just a matter for astronomers. Take away dark skies and we have less to see and wonder at. Dark skies would help us to be more human and humble creatures: no wonder we are scared of them.

Read and ponder. Would the wise men have seen the Christmas star today?

O Lord, open our eyes, And our mouth shall declare your praise.

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28 November: the Amos Trust Carol Service in Canterbury

Join us when the Amos Trust Bethlehem Christmas carol service tour stops off in Canterbury on Tuesday, 3 December, from 19:00 – 21:00 at St Paul’s Church, CT1 1NH

 

 

About this Event

Join us when the Amos Trust Bethlehem Christmas carol service tour stops off at St Paul’s in Canterbury, where we’ll be joined by Sami Awad from Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem plus special guest performers.

Sami is a leading Palestinian peace activist who will be explaining why non-violence is at the heart of the Christmas message and of his family in Gaza. All proceeds will go to our 2019 Christmas appeal for our partners in Gaza and the home and peace-building work of Holy Land Trust.

Please join us.

The tour will be part of Ahlan Gaza, our new campaign that aims to share stories of life in the Gaza Strip. Join us and our very special guests as we turn our hearts and minds to Gaza to start the Christmas season.

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9 November: Across the Park

2nd Class Stamps x 50 (Self Adhesive Stamp Sheet) Christmas 20191st Class Stamps x 50 (Self Adhesive Stamp Sheet) Christmas 2019

It’s a short walk across the park to our sub post office at Saint Stephen’s, far preferable to the one in town, now that it has left its historic building for an upstairs counter in a stationery shop.

I came out with two books of Christmas stamps. The first week in November seems rather early for this, but they are rather lovely, and we do still post letters occasionally, so why not share something beautiful as well as the Christmas story?

We may even use these stamps well into next year; I know a nativity stamp on a letter always makes me pause before opening, whatever the time of year. I was feeling a little sheepish though, as I set out for home; it’s nowhere near Christmas yet in my mind’s eye, let alone my feelings. Not even Advent.

But then, crossing the road I nearly tripped over a lap dog, dressed in a Santa costume despite its ample fur coat. 1,000 times NO! Let the dog be a dog! Let Christmas be Christmas! Of course the animals, including the shepherds’ dog, belong in the story, the next chapter of the Creation story, and of course we should treasure and care for animals in our care, but a dog is a dog, a furry animal, not a living soft toy!

May the star and your angel lead you through Advent to Bethlehem and the manger!

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Of course the dog came with the shepherds to see baby Jesus!  Patrixbourne Church, Kent.

 

 

 

 

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2 February: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

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The Nunc Dimittis Canticle is recited every night in the Catholic Church; in Anglican churches, such as Canterbury Cathedral, it is sung during Vespers. It is originally the Song of Simeon; the old man was overcome with joy and peace when he met the little scrap of humanity that was ‘the Salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples.’

That was the easy bit when I was asked to play Simeon in a mystery play at Canterbury Cathedral three years ago. My grandson was already too big for the part but the doll we borrowed did not steal the scene. I could concentrate on the Baby, the Father -and then Mary.

It is a massive shift of key as the prophetic revelation finds utterance, and yet we know it is true: a sword will pierce her heart – indeed there is a tradition of the seven sorrows of Mary. I had to come down from my great joy in an instant and look into Mary’s eyes with an overwhelming compassion that was neither mine, nor yet Simeon’s, but the Father’s.

Thirty years after the Presentation that compassion would be brought to practical life by John.

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This window from Saint Mary’s in Rye, Sussex shows Mary, almost blind with grief, following her adoptive son by the hand. She turns her back on the apple tree of temptation and stumbles trustingly towards the Vine.

The empty Cross is a point of light against the night sky: sorrow will be replaced by joy, overturning the order of Simeon’s vision. This is a John’s Gospel window. We also see the Great Bear in the stars. If a star told of his coming, this constellation points to the North Star by which we can find our way to him.

I am the way.

Anyone who wants to follow me must take up their cross daily and follow me.

 

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8 January: An Epiphany Celebration with L’Arche Canterbury Pilgrims.

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Six times a year a mixed gathering of L’Arche core members, assistants and friends meet as the Pilgrims’ Group to pray, eat, and enjoy each other’s company. Pilgrims? Well we are in Canterbury, where every footstep is on the traces of pilgrims to the Shrine of Thomas and saints like Alphege and Mildred from Saxon times, less well known now but great witnesses.

We make no claim to greatness but we do witness together with Scripture, prayer and fellowship at a shared table. This time we were remembering the wise men who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to meet an infant king – but found him in Bethlehem.

Our celebration – and we are good at celebrations – took the form of a mini-mystery play around the office and workshop. The wise men left their cosy way of life behind, to try another way: the pilgrim road, seeking for the new born King, and being pointed to Jerusalem.

pilgrims way

And they had to try another way to go home, after they all had the same dream. Here is the text we followed, and the figures that we used to act out the story. After that, we prayed around the table, made ourselves crowns, and feasted. We are good at celebrations!

The lines in blue are repeated by all; red for rubrics means stage directions, not to be read aloud.


The readings are from Isaiah and Saint Matthew.

Isaiah wrote about people going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem before Jesus was born.

Shine out, Jerusalem, your light has come! Kings will come to your shining light. They will bring gold and incense and sing the praise of the Lord.

All: Sing the praise of the Lord.

Our scented candle can stand for the frankincense and myrrh, and the flame is the same colour as gold.

candle

The wise men were pilgrims following the star.

Mark to take up star to first station where magi are waiting.

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in the time of King Herod,  some wise men came from the east.

 

Wherever they went they asked: ‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’

‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’

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On the way they told people: We saw his star and have come to honour him.’

We saw his star and have come to honour him.’

Nobody else thought the star was special. They all said:

pilgrimscrib2

 

‘Go to Jerusalem to see the King of the Jews.’

Stop at  three ‘stations’ and repeat this scene.

At Jerusalem station we see Herod flanked by hid guards.

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When they got to Jerusalem, they went to see King Herod. He was worried. He asked the priests and the teachers where Christ was to be born. They told him ‘At Bethlehem .’

At Bethlehem .’

‘for the prophet wrote:

Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the wise men. He asked them when the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. ‘Come and tell me when you find the baby, then I may go and worship him.’ They listened to the king, and they set out. And the star went forward, and halted over the place where the child was.

To final station, the crib.

pilgrimscrib4

They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they fell to their knees. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

gold and frankincense and myrrh.

But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and they went home a different way.

they went home a different way.

Magi depart.

When I was at L’Arche Edmonton, I visited one of the activities where core members worked. The man in charge of it was a wise teacher. He taught me something I’ve never forgotten. Don’t tell someone they are doing something wrong when they are doing their best. Say, Try another way.

That is what the wise men did. First of all they left their home and their work to follow a star. And then, instead of going back to report to King Herod, they went home a different way. If they all had the same dream, they would have taken it seriously! Let’s try another way with the people we live and work with this year.

With thanks to Christina Chase who helped crystallise some of the ideas in this celebration, and thanks to Abel for the loan of his people.

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WT

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January 5: Some Gifts of Community Life.

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A LETTER FROM DAVID BEX, COMMUNITY LEADER, L’ARCHE KENT.

David came to L’Arche after belonging to an Emmaus Community. The gifts he received and developed there will be good for us and help us grow, but it is also good for us to be reminded of what our gifts and strengths are as a community. I can vouch for friendships that have lasted forty years and more! 

MMB.

The year 2018 is drawing to a close and it has been a year of change. We have had assistants go back to their home countries after a year with us, taking with them a piece of L’Arche Kent in their hearts and creating friendships that continue.

Sadly, we have had Core Members die this year, Emma and Denise.

We have seen long term assistants move on to a new chapter in their lives, which has meant that they have finished as employees but not as members of our Community.

When Core Members and assistants who have been our friends and companions change their roles or move away I sense and share a feeling of loss within the Community and a period of reflection about our relationships with them. There is a time to recognise what we have learnt from each other, the joy and laughter that we shared together.

As part of these times of reflection there comes a time when we are able to recognise that we need to prepare ourselves for welcoming new community members, new assistants and new core members. I feel these two celebrations, departing and arriving, are embraced by our Community and I see the effort and care that goes into them. As a Community we do celebrations very well, and for me, being involved gives me a sense of belonging which deepens my passion for L’Arche.

We may not always realise it but we do cope with change really well. We allow time for it to happen, we talk about it, we reflect upon it and we share our emotions about it. These traditions within L’Arche help us to be a Community, to be strong, to be able to care and have the confidence to show that we care. These traditions, these behaviours are often talked about in the world around us, but from what I see rarely practised in such a meaningful way as can be found in our Community and L’Arche as a whole.

Christmas is a time of change, a time of hope, a time when the deepest part of winter has been reached, when we look forward to brighter and lighter days. As a Community we have lots to look forward to, such as our newly arrived assistants and the ones to come, bringing with them the gifts of new relationships. I see our Community in the future having many opportunities to be a role model to those around us. We are a vibrant Community with lots of ideas, creativitydavid bex and kindness.

I see all of you playing a vital role in L’Arche Kent, in showing to the world around us what Community can look like. Thank you for what you do for each other and for the Community. Thank you for the acts of kindness and caring and being wonderful role models.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

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December 31: A hero all the world wants.

madonna-closeup-hales-pl

Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

We have been listening to the poets over Christmas; now here is another of them, Gerard Manly Hopkins, this time a paragraph or two from his sermon for Sunday evening, November 23 1879. It is a poet’s sermon! The full text is on pp136ff of the Penguin edition of his poems and prose, edited by W.H. Gardner; worth seeking out.

 

St Joseph though he often carried our Lord Jesus Christ in his arms and the Blessed Virgin though she gave him birth and suckled him at her breast, though they seldom either of them had the holy child out of their sight and knew more of him far than all others, yet when they heard what holy Simeon a stranger had to say of him, the Scripture says they wondered.

Not indeed that they were surprised and had thought to hear something different but that they gave their minds up to admiration and dwelt with reverent wonder on all God’s doings about the child their sacred charge. Brethren, see what a thing it is to hear about our Lord Jesus Christ, to think of him and dwell upon him; it did good to these two holiest people, the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph, even with him in the house God thought good to give them lights by the mouth of strangers. It cannot but do good to us, who have more need of holiness, who easily forget Christ, who have not got him before our eyes to look at . . .

Our Lord Jesus Christ, my brethren, is our hero, a hero all the world wants.

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